Friday, August 13, 2010

Orlandos/Sonny & the Premiers

Orlandos photo from Doo Wop

The Orlandos formed in 1954 on the hard streets of the Whitaker Projects, across the Mon from Rankin and Braddock. At the time, they consisted of lead tenor Gary Jenkins, tenor Joe Murphy, tenor Roger Randolph, baritone Charles Raeford, and bass John Crowder.

The guys were all 14 years old and attending Homeville Junior High School. A few months later Jenkins, Murphy, and Raeford all exited the Orlandos; they were in high school and had better things to do, we suppose.

Lead tenor Ronnie Williams (who joined the El Venos in the late 1990s), tenor Nate Thomas (who later joined Detroit's Four Palms), and bass Wallace Berry replaced the exiting voices, with Crowder shifting to baritone.

By 1955, the Orlandos were regulars at the local hops, and caught the ear of WCAE DJ Jay Michael. Through Michael, they were eventually introduced to Roulette Records owner George Goldner, who in 1957 signed the group to his fledgling Cindy label. Cindy was owned by Goldner and Michael, and named after Jay's daughter. The label was where groups with local appeal were shuffled to cut wax.

First sent to Detroit to cut a demo, they ended up without any studio time. A few weeks later, they made it to the Big Apple, where they cut what would be their only recording, "Cloudburst," written by Williams, b/w "Old McDonald." It was issued in September 1957 on Cindy 3006.

Well, Michael pushed the song, and it got some local love. But Roulette didn't, assuring that the song would never break out of Pittsburgh. The band did its part, touring the Midwest, but they remained a Western Pennsylvania phenomena.

Thomas left the group, and tenor Lee Smalls took his place, but there were no more record offers and they were relegated to club gigs. After a couple of years of that existence, the Orlandos called it a day.

But they would live on, in the emergence of their backing band. It consisted of Sonny Gilmer (guitar), Bobby Gilmer (sax), Thomas Gilmer (drums), George Cooper (bass), Alex Murray (piano), Irving Williams (sax), and Donald Early (bongos). Dr. Nelson Harrison even played for the group between 1963–67.

The instrumentalists added singer Leroy Gilliard, and they became a popular Pittsburgh area club band throughout the late fifties and sixties, performing as Sonny and the Premiers. Their tune, "Run Along Baby" b/w "Hey Miss Fancy" (RCA 20-6958) was released by RCA Victor in 1957.

The Orlandos - "Cloudburst" 1957


Brian said...

Sonny Gilmore (guitar), Bobby Gilmore (sax), Thomas Gilmore (drums) the correct spelling is Gilmer it is a common mistake.

Ron Ieraci said...

Mea culpa, Brian. Thanks for the correction.

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